2011 will certainly be a year to remember

  • December 20, 2011

Life can be like wine. Some years are simply better than others. And 2011 was a wonderful vintage for me.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some bitter tannins at the bottom of the glass at times, but overall the bouquet was exceptional and the taste robust.

It had to be after beginning the year with a remarkable trip to the Holy Land in January, my first time to walk where Jesus walked 2,000 years ago. It began as a business trip and quickly morphed into a spiritual journey.

When you stand on the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus delivered His Sermon on the Mount, touch the ground in places where He performed miracles, travel through valleys and hills where Isaiah, Jeremiah and Elijah prophesized, imagine His agony carrying the cross along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, it is impossible to feel you’re merely on a business trip.

As they say, a trip to the Holy Land brings the Bible to life.

I have so many wonderful memories and images engrained in my mind, and some light-hearted moments, too. Our erudite guide, Tsion Ben-david, who quickly turned into a friend and remains so through e-mail and Facebook, cracked us up daily.

I remember standing atop the Mount of Olives, overlooking the 6,500-year-old city of Jerusalem and its picture-postcard view. Just below was a 3,000-year-old cemetery where Jews are buried with the belief that it is here in the Kidron Valley where God will appear in the end.

Tsion turned to me and said: “When that happens, we’ll quickly know if we’re right (Jews) or you’re right (Christians).”

“How so?” I said.

“Because,” Tsion deadpanned, “I will ask God, ‘have you been here before?’ If He says ‘yes’ then you’re right, but if He says ‘no’ we’re right.”

I bet he’s told that joke a thousand times.

Within days of returning home, revolution swept through the Middle East: Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya and elsewhere. It remains to be seen if this so-called Arab Spring will bring the prosperity and peace most hope from the changes. But what remains without doubt is that Christians in parts of the Middle East and Asia continue to be persecuted for their beliefs. So far, these revolutions have done nothing to abate that sad fact, and are in many ways exacerbating the problem.

When I read or see such stories, I now think of an exciting experiment in Omaha, Nebraska. There, on the same property, a church, a mosque and a synagogue are being constructed in hope of building bridges and bonds between the three Abrahamic religions.

I am not naïve enough to think such tri-faith initiatives will spring up all over the world, but it’s a good start. And, as Jesus says about the farmer and his seed (Luke 8: 4-8), “some fell in good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold.”

It was also early in the year that my family found out that my niece was diagnosed with breast cancer and, weeks later, stage four terminal cancers were discovered in other parts of her body. The mother of a brand new baby, this was devastating. But then something happened several months later: a full body scan could find no trace of cancer cells — anywhere in her body. “No PET/CT evidence to suggest local, nodal or distant metastatic disease at this time,” doctors reported.

Miracle? Misdiagnosis? Remission only to come back? Who knows? But it was the best part of the entire year, bar none, for everyone in our family because it brought so much joy and hope. Even if she is not cured, which I do not for a moment believe, she will have more time than originally forecast and her little boy will get to know his remarkable mother even better.

There were many other good things about 2011, such as our two teenagers who make us proud (and sometimes exasperated), being given an opportunity this year to speak to Catholic Register readers regularly, celebrating a milestone birthday for me and preparing a similar celebration for my wife early in the New Year.

After such a vintage year, I just hope there is no hangover in 2012. Wishing you and your family a healthy and happy New Year.

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